On my second to last day in Ireland (and my 28th birthday!) I left Galway and headed toward Connemara peninsula. The drive out there was beautiful – there weren’t many cars on the road so I felt like I had the entire place to myself. The golden hills, the sheep crossing the road, the sun peaking through the clouds – it felt like a dream.
I stopped by Kyelmore Abbey and got my Downton Abbey fix by wandering through the massive estate. The main reason I wanted to head out there was to see their famous gardens, which was a 10 minute shuttle from the abby. I missed the shuttle out there so I ended up walking there, and the entire road was lined with daffodils and beautiful views. The garden itself was pretty unimpressive since it was still winter so it was everyone was dead, but I can imagine it was really beautiful back in the day.
The whole reason I headed out in the direction was based off a recommended to hike in Connemara National Park, and I’m so glad I made the trip out there because it was absolutely stunning. A storm was a-brewin’ so I planned to do the hike pretty quickly, but as soon as I headed out I knew that this was no place to rush. The hike itself was pretty easy and flat – until I got to the base of the mountain and had to straight climb for 30 minutes up and up and up. The only consolation was the unbelievable views – I swear I stopped every 5 steps to make more photos. In the beginning of the hike it was clear enough to see the Aran islands and Kylemore abby and the valley below. I kept wishing that Jack was with me to share the view, but at the same time it was really special to be able to focus on the moment and really appreciate the experience by myself. It was a great time to think about what I want to accomplish during this next year of my life.
After the hike I headed along the coast to Clifden, a small town where I had booked a room at the castle above the town. I drove along Skye Road, which was lined with beautiful spacious farms, grazing sheep, and lots and lots of daffodils. It was stunning.
When I finally arrived at Abbyglen Hotel, I was welcomed by the kindest man who, even though I declined his offer to carry my one small bag, walked me into the hotel, up to the front desk, and chatted with me while I waited in line to check in. I immediately felt like I had a friend in the area and whenever I saw him the rest of the visit he welcomed me with a warm smile and continued our conversations from earlier.
Clifden was an adorable little town, perfect for a one night stay. I, of course, stopped by the local bookstore and picked up “All The Lights We Cannot See”, a book that’s been on my “to-read” list for a while. After exploring for a bit, I headed back to the Abbyglen for the 5pm champagne, appetizers, and history story telling hour in the sitting room.
I headed down a little after 5, was offered a glass of champagne, and sat in the corner to write in my journal. A few minutes later the Abbyglen’s resident parrot (yes, they had a parrot), waddled in, squawking and begging for a pet. It was adorable. The owner of the hotel came in a few minutes later and gave us an enthralling history of the town and the castle, and made a point to welcome each and every person that was there.
After the history lesson, I went back to writing about my day, when the old man next to me asked “Whatchya writing there? A novel?” His wife, who was sitting next to me, asked what I was doing there ( they were probably confused because almost everyone there was in the later years of their life), which started a half an hour conversation the ended up being the highlight of my trip. After five minutes of talking to this sweet couple – who were from southern Ireland, married for 50 years, had five kids, and take this trip to the Abbyglen to celebrate themselves every year – they felt like family. They were so interested in my life and my story, and the ended up giving me some great life advice. Sadly they had to head up to dinner so they left me to my writing, but Mary (the woman) gave me the biggest hug and kiss on the cheek, and said ” You’re beautiful, you know that?” then headed up to dinner hand in hand with her husband. It was the sweetest, kindest moment.
As soon as they left, their table mates took their place in the conversation and we ended up chatting for another half an hour about the history of Ireland. It was so special to be able to connect with these folks on this level, since this type of stranger interaction is what I’ve really missed since moving to Europe. I like to meet new people and start conversations with strangers, but it’s been hard in Holland beacuse of the language barrier. But the interactions from Ireland renewed my love of meeting new people and was just what I needed.
When I finally headed upstairs to dinner, I entered a huge ballroom filled with tables and was greeted by the owner of the hotel. When I asked for a table for one, he led me to a table in the middle of the room and gave me an American flag to welcome me 🙂 I saw my new friends a few tables away, and Mary came up to give me (another) hug and kiss. After I finished my meal, the owner of the hotel made an annoucement that it was a “beautiful, special lady’s birthday today” and led everyone in an irish rendition of Happy Birthday as he made his way towards me with a piece of cake and adorable birthday message. Needless to say I was embarrassed, but so grateful. A sweet, new couple from a few tables away wished me happy birthday and invited me to join them downstairs for a “musical performance”. The owner then proceeded to try to take a picture of me for about 5 minutes before finally getting the flash to work, so I sat there like a doofus with a huge smile of my face and a heart full of love for these kind, generous strangers.
If the rest of my 28th year is anything like this day, then I know it’s going to be my best one yet.